REBECCA PETRUCK: BOY BITES BUG

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The last time Rebecca Petruck was on the blog, it was June 2016 and her new middle grade novel, BOY BITES BUG, was almost two years from publication. To pass the time, Rebecca was doing some important research: Making earthworm jerky, waxworm cookies, and cricket tacos with a few of her closest friends. Today, she’s settled on her favorite culinary insect treat—Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch’s Sesame Ant Brittle—and BOY BITES BUG is about to hit the shelves. So of course, I couldn’t resist checking back in with her to chat about all things BUG.

Welcome to the blog, Rebecca! I’m so excited about the upcoming launch of your new book, BOY BITES BUG. What’s it all about, and what was your inspiration for writing it?

The story begins when Will Nolan’s best friend calls new kid Eloy Herrera a racial slur. To defuse the situation, Will eats a live stink bug—it makes sense in the moment. 😊 BUG is about friendships old and new, prejudice, and of course, eating bugs.

I first became interested in entomophagy when National Geographic published a short article about a UN report urging people to eat more bugs. The article included, “eight popular bugs to try,” and I thought, “Bug eating! That’s so middle grade! Funny!”

But I always do my best to be respectful of the communities I portray, and the more I learned about entomophagy, the more I was sold on it being seriously cool as a tasty food option, good for the planet, and good for our health.

Not to mention, that UN report is no joke. We as humans already suck at feeding the world’s population, and that will only worsen in the coming decades. We need food options that are nutritious and reduce the strain on our planet’s resources. And we need kids who grow up comfortable with the idea of insects as a natural and normal food source. Most around the world are, but North American and European kids aren’t, and those populations are the biggest consumers of the planet’s resources. So I hope Boy Bites Bug begins a conversation with these kids that will lead to real change.

BOY BITES BUG is your second novel. Your first, STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, came out in 2014 and was a Kids Indie Next List title, as well as a Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Award for Best Book of 2014 winner (that’s a mouthful!) and an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices selection—to name a few. What were some of the challenges you experienced in writing a second book, especially when the first received such great recognition? Did you have a dark night of the soul and an ‘aha—finally!’ moment where writing BOY BITES BUG was concerned?

First, my inspiration didn’t have any “story” in it; it was only an interesting fact, not even a situation. So it took a while to find my way to the story. Another difference this time was that the idea sold before the manuscript was written. I had a synopsis, but that doesn’t always mean what I envision and what the publisher envisions are the same thing. My dark night was when I submitted the version I thought would be the final one—and my editor said no.

It’s only now I see how lucky I am that my editor could give me the time to rework the story, significantly. That other version was fine, but I love this one. Reading it, I have moments like an out-of-body experience because it doesn’t feel like I wrote it. I wince and laugh like it’s brand new to me. It’s a surreal and awesome feeling.

The last time I had you on the blog, you’d had a few writer friends come to visit, and were plying them with cricket tacos and earthworm jerky as research for BBB. Tell us a bit about the culture and science of entomophagy. Have you become an edible insect expert—and do you nibble on chocolate-covered insects for snacks?

The thing about entomophagy is that it’s genuinely important for the welfare of our planet and the people on it. It’s also an untapped market in much of North America and Europe. The entomophagy community is growing fast on both the supply side and the demand side. At the Seattle Mariners’ baseball stadium, chapulines (fried grasshoppers) are sold—and sell out—along with popcorn and hot dogs! New York City has a popular gourmet restaurant called The Black Ant, which serves all sorts of amazing insect dishes. So, while a lot of people here in the US and Europe look at entomophagy as a novelty/dare, they are still trying insects, discovering they taste good, and learning about why we should eat them more regularly. I think we’re at a tipping point of embracing insects in a big way. No matter what is going on in our government, most people have a strong sense that our planet is on the verge, and eating insects and less mass-produced meat is an impactful step to help.

Two great resources to learn more about entomophagy are Little Herds, which does a lot of education outreach, and Entomo Farms, which has greatly expanded the reach of crickets and cricket protein throughout Canada. For some amazing recipes to try yourself, check out The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook by David George Gordon, the Bug Chef and long-time advocate for entomophagy in the US.

I’m not a dedicated entomophagist—yet. I still have to order all my insect treats online. My favorite insects are ants, and Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch makes this amazing Sesame Ant Brittle.

What draws you to write middle grade fiction? And what research do you do to make sure your characters’ voices ring true?

Middle school is the time when kids are coming out from under the umbrella of their caregivers, beginning to think about the wider world, and what kind of person we want to be in it. This is when kids explore a lot of different things—activities, new friends, clothes, etc. Nothing is superficial. They are finding their strengths, weaknesses, true likes and dislikes, values, and more. I love this age group because they are still so wide open and willing to try things. Related to that is my belief that this is a crucial time they learn how important it is to try, to keep trying despite failure, and how to cope with setbacks or consequences. I hope my books provide an example of ways to do that.

In order to really get that middle grade voice, I spend time with middle school students. I’ve attended schools as a “7th grader for a day.” I’ve interviewed dozens of students, like the Hispanic-American middle school students in Rochester, MN, who I hired to beta read a draft of BUG. We can learn a lot about middle school-aged kids from books and TV, but it’s still a stylized version. Whenever possible, I like to meet with kids and let them do the talking.

At the beginning of the book, your main character, Will, eats a stinkbug to create a diversion from the fact that his friend has called the new kid, Eloy Herrera, a racial slur. Can you talk a bit about why you chose this incident to be the catalyst for the events that take place in BBB—and how you handled Will’s subconscious biases about Eloy’s cultural identity?

In early drafts, Will and Eloy were already friends. The book’s problems didn’t come from a racial issue but from things going on with Will’s parents. So when my editor said, “Eh. Let’s take out that parent stuff,” I was at a loss. Will didn’t have a conflict anymore. This was during the run up to the presidential election, and I, like so many white people, was unprepared for how much hate just exploded into the public sphere, validated and encouraged by a leading candidate. I didn’t consciously think, “I want to write about racial tensions.” One day the thought, nearly the entire scene, was just there. Looking back, though, I see why my subconscious mixed those two big concerns—what the heck would I do with BUG now and how is this even happening in our country?

The “trick” with BUG is that Will had to be a bonehead but not so much one that Eloy wouldn’t befriend him (and readers, white or people of color, wouldn’t read). I hired author Claudia Guadalupe Martinez to read an early draft of the new BUG. She got that Will was supposed to be thoughtless, and helped me to balance insensitive versus straight-up intolerable and wrong. I carefully studied all her notes and basically did whatever she said. I can’t emphasize enough: This book never would have made it to print without her. When we had a near-finished draft, my publisher hired another reader, Teresa Mlawer, specifically to consider the Latinx elements. Among other things, she very importantly made sure I had correctly translated, “Flaming butt of doom!” 😊

I personally have taken one of your plot workshops—and it was awesome! For the uninitiated, can you share how you came to help others plan their plots . . . and what techniques you use to help a muddy manuscript shine?

I learned a plot technique from friends who learned it from friends—it was passed via a writer underground network! It clicked with how my own brain works as a logical/organizer with a creative bent. It’s like zooming out a camera for a wide-angle view, and once I got the hang of it, I could see ways to help my critique partners which expanded into ways to help others.

But, in a way, that’s just structure. The other aspect of how I hope I help clients is pointing out the parts of what they have that are really strong, or high concept, or unique. And I try to really listen and intuit what the writer actually feels passionate about in the WIP, which is sometimes different from what they think they “should” be writing. Once I give “permission” to focus on that element, the story outline tends to fall into place pretty easily.

I love when I can see ideas sparking and help someone trust the potential in their own work that they may have underestimated. I’ve had amazing people help me on my way to publication, and it’s an honor to be part of other writers’ journeys.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Will didn’t plan to eat a stinkbug. But when his friend Darryl called new kid Eloy Herrera a racial slur, Will did it as a diversion. Now Will is Bug Boy, and everyone is cracking up inventing insect meals for him, like French flies and maggot-aroni and fleas.

Turns out eating bugs for food is a real thing, called entomophagy. Deciding that means he can use a class project to feed everyone grasshoppers, Will bargains for Eloy’s help in exchange for helping him with wrestling, but their growing friendship only ticks off Darryl more.

Will may have bitten off more than he can chew as crickets, earthworm jerky—even a scorpion—end up on his plate, but insects are the least of his problems. When things with Darryl and Eloy heat up, Will wrestles with questions of loyalty, honor—and that maybe not all friendships are worth fighting for.

To read the first five chapters of Boy Bites Bug, click here
For a special pre-order giveaway, click here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Petruck is the author of BOY BITES BUG (May 2018) and STEERING TOWARD NORMAL (2014), both with ABRAMS/Amulet. BUG received a starred review from ABA Booklist, who said it’s “…funny, perceptive, and topical in more ways than one.” SLJ called it “a sure bet for reluctant readers.” STEERING TOWARD NORMAL was a BCCB Best Book of the Year, and an American Booksellers Association New Voices selection as well as a Kids Indie Next List title. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from UNC Wilmington, and is a mentor for Pitch Wars, Writing in the Margins, and SCBWI Carolinas. She is represented by Kate Testerman of kt literary. Visit Rebecca at http://rebeccapetruck.com and @RebeccaPetruck on Twitter.

Follow Me



Newsletter



Latest Posts



Latest Tweets


The last time Rebecca Petruck was on the blog, it was June 2016 and her new middle grade novel, BOY BITES BUG, was almost two years from publication. To pass the time, Rebecca was doing some important research: Making earthworm jerky, waxworm cookies, and cricket tacos with a few of her closest friends. Today, she’s settled on her favorite culinary insect treat—Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch’s Sesame Ant Brittle—and BOY BITES BUG is about to hit the shelves. So of course, I couldn’t resist checking back in with her to chat about all things BUG.

Welcome to the blog, Rebecca! I’m so excited about the upcoming launch of your new book, BOY BITES BUG. What’s it all about, and what was your inspiration for writing it?

The story begins when Will Nolan’s best friend calls new kid Eloy Herrera a racial slur. To defuse the situation, Will eats a live stink bug—it makes sense in the moment. 😊 BUG is about friendships old and new, prejudice, and of course, eating bugs.

I first became interested in entomophagy when National Geographic published a short article about a UN report urging people to eat more bugs. The article included, “eight popular bugs to try,” and I thought, “Bug eating! That’s so middle grade! Funny!”

But I always do my best to be respectful of the communities I portray, and the more I learned about entomophagy, the more I was sold on it being seriously cool as a tasty food option, good for the planet, and good for our health.

Not to mention, that UN report is no joke. We as humans already suck at feeding the world’s population, and that will only worsen in the coming decades. We need food options that are nutritious and reduce the strain on our planet’s resources. And we need kids who grow up comfortable with the idea of insects as a natural and normal food source. Most around the world are, but North American and European kids aren’t, and those populations are the biggest consumers of the planet’s resources. So I hope Boy Bites Bug begins a conversation with these kids that will lead to real change.

BOY BITES BUG is your second novel. Your first, STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, came out in 2014 and was a Kids Indie Next List title, as well as a Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Award for Best Book of 2014 winner (that’s a mouthful!) and an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices selection—to name a few. What were some of the challenges you experienced in writing a second book, especially when the first received such great recognition? Did you have a dark night of the soul and an ‘aha—finally!’ moment where writing BOY BITES BUG was concerned?

First, my inspiration didn’t have any “story” in it; it was only an interesting fact, not even a situation. So it took a while to find my way to the story. Another difference this time was that the idea sold before the manuscript was written. I had a synopsis, but that doesn’t always mean what I envision and what the publisher envisions are the same thing. My dark night was when I submitted the version I thought would be the final one—and my editor said no.

It’s only now I see how lucky I am that my editor could give me the time to rework the story, significantly. That other version was fine, but I love this one. Reading it, I have moments like an out-of-body experience because it doesn’t feel like I wrote it. I wince and laugh like it’s brand new to me. It’s a surreal and awesome feeling.

The last time I had you on the blog, you’d had a few writer friends come to visit, and were plying them with cricket tacos and earthworm jerky as research for BBB. Tell us a bit about the culture and science of entomophagy. Have you become an edible insect expert—and do you nibble on chocolate-covered insects for snacks?

The thing about entomophagy is that it’s genuinely important for the welfare of our planet and the people on it. It’s also an untapped market in much of North America and Europe. The entomophagy community is growing fast on both the supply side and the demand side. At the Seattle Mariners’ baseball stadium, chapulines (fried grasshoppers) are sold—and sell out—along with popcorn and hot dogs! New York City has a popular gourmet restaurant called The Black Ant, which serves all sorts of amazing insect dishes. So, while a lot of people here in the US and Europe look at entomophagy as a novelty/dare, they are still trying insects, discovering they taste good, and learning about why we should eat them more regularly. I think we’re at a tipping point of embracing insects in a big way. No matter what is going on in our government, most people have a strong sense that our planet is on the verge, and eating insects and less mass-produced meat is an impactful step to help.

Two great resources to learn more about entomophagy are Little Herds, which does a lot of education outreach, and Entomo Farms, which has greatly expanded the reach of crickets and cricket protein throughout Canada. For some amazing recipes to try yourself, check out The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook by David George Gordon, the Bug Chef and long-time advocate for entomophagy in the US.

I’m not a dedicated entomophagist—yet. I still have to order all my insect treats online. My favorite insects are ants, and Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch makes this amazing Sesame Ant Brittle.

What draws you to write middle grade fiction? And what research do you do to make sure your characters’ voices ring true?

Middle school is the time when kids are coming out from under the umbrella of their caregivers, beginning to think about the wider world, and what kind of person we want to be in it. This is when kids explore a lot of different things—activities, new friends, clothes, etc. Nothing is superficial. They are finding their strengths, weaknesses, true likes and dislikes, values, and more. I love this age group because they are still so wide open and willing to try things. Related to that is my belief that this is a crucial time they learn how important it is to try, to keep trying despite failure, and how to cope with setbacks or consequences. I hope my books provide an example of ways to do that.

In order to really get that middle grade voice, I spend time with middle school students. I’ve attended schools as a “7th grader for a day.” I’ve interviewed dozens of students, like the Hispanic-American middle school students in Rochester, MN, who I hired to beta read a draft of BUG. We can learn a lot about middle school-aged kids from books and TV, but it’s still a stylized version. Whenever possible, I like to meet with kids and let them do the talking.

At the beginning of the book, your main character, Will, eats a stinkbug to create a diversion from the fact that his friend has called the new kid, Eloy Herrera, a racial slur. Can you talk a bit about why you chose this incident to be the catalyst for the events that take place in BBB—and how you handled Will’s subconscious biases about Eloy’s cultural identity?

In early drafts, Will and Eloy were already friends. The book’s problems didn’t come from a racial issue but from things going on with Will’s parents. So when my editor said, “Eh. Let’s take out that parent stuff,” I was at a loss. Will didn’t have a conflict anymore. This was during the run up to the presidential election, and I, like so many white people, was unprepared for how much hate just exploded into the public sphere, validated and encouraged by a leading candidate. I didn’t consciously think, “I want to write about racial tensions.” One day the thought, nearly the entire scene, was just there. Looking back, though, I see why my subconscious mixed those two big concerns—what the heck would I do with BUG now and how is this even happening in our country?

The “trick” with BUG is that Will had to be a bonehead but not so much one that Eloy wouldn’t befriend him (and readers, white or people of color, wouldn’t read). I hired author Claudia Guadalupe Martinez to read an early draft of the new BUG. She got that Will was supposed to be thoughtless, and helped me to balance insensitive versus straight-up intolerable and wrong. I carefully studied all her notes and basically did whatever she said. I can’t emphasize enough: This book never would have made it to print without her. When we had a near-finished draft, my publisher hired another reader, Teresa Mlawer, specifically to consider the Latinx elements. Among other things, she very importantly made sure I had correctly translated, “Flaming butt of doom!” 😊

I personally have taken one of your plot workshops—and it was awesome! For the uninitiated, can you share how you came to help others plan their plots . . . and what techniques you use to help a muddy manuscript shine?

I learned a plot technique from friends who learned it from friends—it was passed via a writer underground network! It clicked with how my own brain works as a logical/organizer with a creative bent. It’s like zooming out a camera for a wide-angle view, and once I got the hang of it, I could see ways to help my critique partners which expanded into ways to help others.

But, in a way, that’s just structure. The other aspect of how I hope I help clients is pointing out the parts of what they have that are really strong, or high concept, or unique. And I try to really listen and intuit what the writer actually feels passionate about in the WIP, which is sometimes different from what they think they “should” be writing. Once I give “permission” to focus on that element, the story outline tends to fall into place pretty easily.

I love when I can see ideas sparking and help someone trust the potential in their own work that they may have underestimated. I’ve had amazing people help me on my way to publication, and it’s an honor to be part of other writers’ journeys.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Will didn’t plan to eat a stinkbug. But when his friend Darryl called new kid Eloy Herrera a racial slur, Will did it as a diversion. Now Will is Bug Boy, and everyone is cracking up inventing insect meals for him, like French flies and maggot-aroni and fleas.

Turns out eating bugs for food is a real thing, called entomophagy. Deciding that means he can use a class project to feed everyone grasshoppers, Will bargains for Eloy’s help in exchange for helping him with wrestling, but their growing friendship only ticks off Darryl more.

Will may have bitten off more than he can chew as crickets, earthworm jerky—even a scorpion—end up on his plate, but insects are the least of his problems. When things with Darryl and Eloy heat up, Will wrestles with questions of loyalty, honor—and that maybe not all friendships are worth fighting for.

To read the first five chapters of Boy Bites Bug, click here
For a special pre-order giveaway, click here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rebecca Petruck is the author of BOY BITES BUG (May 2018) and STEERING TOWARD NORMAL (2014), both with ABRAMS/Amulet. BUG received a starred review from ABA Booklist, who said it’s “…funny, perceptive, and topical in more ways than one.” SLJ called it “a sure bet for reluctant readers.” STEERING TOWARD NORMAL was a BCCB Best Book of the Year, and an American Booksellers Association New Voices selection as well as a Kids Indie Next List title. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from UNC Wilmington, and is a mentor for Pitch Wars, Writing in the Margins, and SCBWI Carolinas. She is represented by Kate Testerman of kt literary. Visit Rebecca at http://rebeccapetruck.com and @RebeccaPetruck on Twitter.